網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

should be ravished with God; we should say, What is a nectarean draught, a delicious banquet, an embroidered garment, an enamelled hanger, a marble statue, a face of beauty, an arm of chivalry, a brain of policy, curious galleries, engraven chimney-pieces, stately balconies, lofty turrets, furnished wardrobes, burnished dining chambers, spacious theatres, precious jaspers, odoriferous perfumes, orient colours? No, we should call these things but the sophistry of judgement, the magic of the senses, cheats to delude under-wits, trifles to please half-sighted naturals. But when we come to look upon Him, who is all magnificence, we should say, What is worth? what is wonder? what is completeness? what is eternity I what is incomprehensibleness? What is God? What is the admirable universe to the incomparable God?"

Reeve is rather declamatory and practical, than speculative: he indulges not in the creation of theories, or the discussion of dogmas —he has matter enough without having recourse to speculation. He has, however, collected together many points of speculation on the subject of sin from the schoolmen, equally singular and unprofitable; but which are so curious, that we shall introduce them here.

"I know there are many curious questions about sin, as whether the sin of Adam, which effectively vitiated whole nature, be greater than the sin against the Holy Ghost, which objectively is not only against the love and truth of God, and that gift and union by which all graces have their influence, but against the eminent goodness of God, by which the divine relation is dissolved, and therefore expressly called the sin unto death: and whether man be obliged to the sins of all his forefathers, as well as to the sins of Adam, because we are baptized into the remission of sins, and not sin; and David (though born of lawful wedlock) saith, 'I was born in iniquity, and in sins hath my mother conceived me.' Or whether a man shall answer only for original sin, and not for other sins, if he do not imitate them, as Jerome holds; and whether the punishments of sin be sin, because they are not only effects of Divine justice, but a contracted depravation, as after precedent sin there doth come a subsequent corruption, and obduration oftentimes. Whether pardoned sins be quite abolished, or whether, upon reiterated transgression, they do not return: whether the preterition of good, or the perpetration of evil, or if ye will, whether the sin of omission, or commission, be the greatest; and whether to the formal deordination of sin, there be absolutely required a complete consent, because he which can resist is not enforced to yield; or a mere nescience, pausing delight or propathy, do not of itself cause sin: and, to be brief, whether a man may not sin in serving God, or sin in his sleep, or sin in thinking of his former sins, or sin in looking upon the sins of others. These and many other intricacies have been propounded concerning sin. But repentance doth answer all these problems, and take away all these scruples; for repentance is a reparation, a purgation, a remedy, a redintegration: I do not say but the macula, the spot of sin, may remain till the day of judgement, there, to the greater glory of the Redeemer, to be covered with the righteousness of Christ; but the reatus, the guilt, is wholly removed: God doth not impute it, nor look upon it as a grievance."

An amusing specimen of worthy Master Reeve's verbiage, will be found in the description of the dresses of the women and men of his time.

"The kings of Egypt were wont to give unto their queens the tribute of the city of Antilla, to buy them girdles; and how much girdles, gorgets, wimples, cowls, crisping-pins, veils, rails, frontlets, bonnets, bracelets, necklaces, slops, slippers, roundtires, sweetballs, rings, ear-rings, mufflers, glasses, hoods, lawn, musks, civets, rosepowders, jessamy butter, complexion waters, do cost in our days, many a sighing husband doth know by the year's account. What ado is there to spruce up many a woman, either for streets or market, banquets or temples? She is not fit to be seen unless she doth appear half naked, nor to be marked, unless she hath her distinguishing patches upon her; she goeth not abroad till she be feathered like a popinjay, and doth shine like alabaster. It is a hard thing to draw her out of bed, and a harder thing to draw her from the looking-glass: it is the great work of the family to dress her—much chafing and fuming there is before she can be thoroughly tired; her spongings and perfumings, lacings and lickings, clippings and strippings, dentifricings and daubings, the setting of every hair methodically, and the placing of every beauty-spot topically, are so tedious, that it is a wonder that the mistress can sit, or the waiting-maid stand, till all the scenes of this fantastic comedy be acted through. O these birds of paradise are bought at a dear rate! the keeping of these lannerets is very chargeable! The wife oftentimes doth wear more gold upon her back, than the husband hath in his purse; and hath more jewels about her neck, than the annual revenue doth amount to. And this is the she-pride; and doth not the he-pride equal it? Yes, the man now is become as feminine as the woman. Men must have their half shirts and half arms, a dozen casements above, and two wide lukehomes below: some walk (as it were) in their waistcoats; and others (a man would think) in their petticoats: they must have narrow waists and narrow bands, large cuffs upon their wrists, and larger upon their shin bones, their boots must be crimped, and their knees guarded.— A man would conceive them to be apes, by their coats; soap-men, by their faces; meal-men, by their shoulders; bears or dogs, by their frizled hair. And this is my trim man.—And oh, that I could end here; but pride doth go a larger circuit: it is travelled amongst the commons; every yeoman in this age must be attired like a gentleman of the first head; every clerk must be as brave as the justice; every apprentice match his master in gallantry; the waiting gentlewoman doth vie fashions with her lady; and the kitchen-maid doth look like some squire's daughter by her habit; the handicraftsmen are in their colours, and their wives in rich silks."

The portrait of a gallant is still more whimsical.

"The gallant is counted a wild creature; no wild colt, wild ostrich, wild cat of the mountain, comparable to him; he is indeed the buffoon and baboon of the times; his mind is wholly set upon cuts and slashes, knots and roses, patchings and pinkings, jaggings, tagging^, borderings, brimmings, half-shirts, half-arms, yawning breasts, gaping knees, arithmetical middles, geometrical sides, mathematical waists, musical heels, and logical toes."

What a vocabulary of dandyism is here!

We have before intimated, that if our divine's hand had been under the government of good taste, he would have written almost eloquently. The omission of a few words makes a great difference. The following passage on the efficacy of prayer, the original of which will be found in the note below, >s rendered almost beautiful by mere curtailment.

"Oh, how hath prayer calmed the tempest of a troubled mind, yea, stilled the noise of the thunders at God's judgement seat! it is the penitents' balsam, and the best music in God's ears; it doth compromise differences, reconcile adversaries, put songs into mourners' lips, and fill the breasts of disconsolate souls with extasies: so soon as this Ester doth appear, the golden sceptre is stretched out; so soon as this angel doth come down, the waters are stirred, and there is virtue in the pool of Bethesda for all disabled and distressed creatures. O that devotion were but articulate, that repentance could but open her lips, and the penitent draw up all his desires into this short Enthymene: this is the true sweat of our brows, whereby we should earn our bread, the candle which should never go out in the house of the virtuous woman to enrich her family; yea, the key which doth unlock all the chests of God's treasury," &c*

After extolling the excellence and superiority of cities, our author exhorts the citizens to corresponding superiority.

"Thus much in general; for yourselves in particular, as God hath made you a city, so do ye principle out goodness to the land; for a shame it were for the sourest fruit to grow upon the top-branch, or the

* "Oh, how hath prayer calmed the tempests of a troubled mind; yea, stilled the noise of the thunders at God's judgement seat! it is the penitent's balsam, and the best music in God's ears; it doth fright devils and exhilarate angels; it doth cancel bonds, cast indictments out of the court, compromise differences, reconcile mortal adversaries, acquit the guilty, justify sinners, cure phrenzies, ease conflicts, put songs into mourners' lips, fill the breasts of disconsolate souls with extasies, dig mines, fish for pearls, fetch pensions out of God's exchequer, nay draw the signet off from God's right hand to seal churchgrants to the faithful: so soon as this wise woman from the wall doth but speak, the city is spared; so soon as this Abigail doth present herself, the whole family is preserved," &c.

our opinions on many points in which the national prejudice remains unnoticed, because we have never suspected that such a feeling could intrude itself into subjects which are not political. Such, however, we are certain is the case. Experience has taught us to acknowledge, that French generals, French ministers, French mathematicians, French chemists, and French surgeons, may contend for the palm of excellence with any we produce in England. The matter of French cookery and metaphysics is involved in greater doubt; but no right-minded Briton, that we know of, has ever consented to admit, or even condescended to examine, the merits of French poetry.

Many circumstances have occurred to create and perpetuate the distaste. Originally produced by the contempt which national animosity gives birth to, and extends indiscriminately to all subjects, it has naturally outlived the imbecile feeling from which it sprang; and is continued, like other habits, from the inconvenience which would attend its change. We are not certain that such a change would repay the trouble of unlearning an habitual taste; because it is very doubtful how far it is worth while to disturb our settled notions on a subject, concerning which all opinions, in fact, are equally indifferent. It is clearly impossible to fix any standard of excellence in matters of taste and sentiment. That poetry, therefore, is the best, which is most generally pleasing; and whether it be French or English, is a matter of chance and not of preference. So far, to the English reader, the question is decided. His taste is already formed; and we have no intention of impugning it in the present article. We merely wish to introduce him to the knowledge of certain poets, who are as much admired in France as they are unknown in England. We do not challenge his applause, but solicit his attention; for even if there be little admirable, poetically speaking, in the verses of these writers, we think there is much that is amusing. Beside which, to every lover of letters every branch of literature has its interest.

Much of the beauty of poetry must be lost in a foreign language. However intimate our acquaintance with a dialect which was not taught us in our infancy, we are unable to acquire in later life that familiar mastery of all its idioms which is necessary to a perfect relish of the pleasures produced by style. We want that rapid perception of the exact import of every phrase, and the precise degree of similarity or difference in terms which are nearly synonimous—none, perhaps, are exactly so—of which the nurse is the sole instructress. We are insensible to the exquisite beauty resulting from the happy disposition of harmonious words, and overlook the peculiar turn imparted to whole sentences, by the equivocal use of common phrases. All this must occur to every one, who is at all familiar with foreign authors; and wherever much pleasure is derived from foreign poetry, it is chiefly owing to associations of a very different nature from those which delight us in that of our native language. This pleasure is usually great in proportion to the difficulty surmounted in acquiring the foreign dialect. Hence the excessive admiration which Lowth entertained for the poetry of the Hebrew scriptures. Hence, also, the exaggerated praise of Hafiz and Ferdusi, and other writers of a barbarous language, who, being accessible to few, are proclaimed by that privileged few as the paragons of poetic genius. A polyglot scholar will decide, first, in favour of Greek—then, of German—of Italian, next—but of French, which is the easiest and most generally understood, last of all. The probability is, that the authors in all these dialects are of equal intrinsic excellence. But as the admirers of Euripides are considerably less numerous than those of Voltaire, the merits of these celebrated poets will be estimated— not in proportion to their respective dramatic excellence—but in an inverse ratio, according to the number of their readers.

This, we have no doubt, is a second cause of the neglect of French poetry in England. It is useless to search for other reasons which have consigned it to indifference. It is, however, certain, that of the many who deliver magisterial opinions on its great inferiority to our own, but few have ever thought it necessary to turn over the leaves even of its most celebrated authors. This is certainly more convenient than just. For our own parts, we believe, that much pleasure has been lost by this summary criticism; and we have therefore undertaken to present a specimen of French poetry, in order to excite inquiry, and to ascertain the real grounds of the common prejudice against it. To obtain a reading is all we dare at present hope for. If we succeed in amusing the reader, our time will not have been mis-spent; but if we make one convert, our utmost expectations will be surpassed.

There are two eras in French poetry, and between them we trace no resemblance. Since Mairet first wrote his Sophonisbe, the drama of his predecessors has fallen into utter oblivion. So is it in the other departments of poetry. The productions of De Baif and Ronsard are only read in English magazines. The more curious man of letters may occasionally glance at the obsolescent verses of Marot; but the attention of the man of taste is confined to the graceful Chaulieu and his accomplished associates and successors. Among these we shall select our specimens; and as one of the most prominent, though the most modern, we have commenced with the " gen

VOL, VIII. PART II. T

« 上一頁繼續 »